09 October, 2018
05 May, 2019
Return of the Kings - a closer look at Iberostar Tenerife
18/04/2019
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Return of the Kings - a closer look at Iberostar Tenerife

SAN CRISTOBAL DE LA  LAGUNA (Spain) - Flashback to early May 2017, and the Santiago Martin was gearing up to host its first major Basketball event. After reforming as CB 1939 Canarias in 1994, the club now known as Iberostar Tenerife had won promotions to the ACB, but the closest they had come to a major piece of silverware was a Quarter-Final of the Copa del Ray. In the Basketball Champions League, the Canarians hit the bullseye with their first dart. As hosts, they reached and won their first major final against Banvit - in the process becoming the BCL's first-ever winners.

As is often the case with a newly successful sports team, winning meant the loss of several key figures in the team; Final Four MVP Marius Grigonis moved to Alba Berlin, Aaron Doornekamp moved to Valencia, Georgios Bogris returned home to Greece and Olympiacos, Will Hanley traded sunshine for sunshine with a move to Porto, and even Coach Txus Vidorreta was headhunted by Valencia Basket. The spine of the squad, however, has largely remained. Fast forward to 2019 and Javier Beiran, Rodrigo San Miguel, Ferran Bassas, Nicholas Richotti, Mamadou Niang, Davin White, and Tim Abromaitis are all kings returning to reclaim their throne in Antwerp. 

Road to the Final Four

As a club, Tenerife's commitment to a strong, consistent core has been a huge part of their recent success. As has their recruitment policy. Players like Nicolas Brussino, Pierre-Antoine Gillet and Sebastien Saiz look like Tenerife players the moment they step on the court in that yellow jersey. Colton Iverson at the center is also a perfect fit in the mold of Bogris, Vazquez, and Tobey before him - a lob-catching, screen-setting, anchor-like presence that, like the others before him, is also an underrated passer. 

Perhaps as important as any core squad member or new recruit, has been the return of Coach Txus Vidorreta. Under Nenad Markovic and Fotsis Katsikaris, Tenerife still played that trademark style offensively, but on both ends of the floor, Tenerife never looked as "on-brand" without Vidorreta at the helm.

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It's not just about how it looks either. Since Vidorreta returned, the end product has also been very similar. In 2016/17 Tenerife dominated the Regular Season, finishing 11-3. This season's 12-2 was every bit as dominant. In the first season, two of those 3 losses were by 4 points or less. This season those two Regular Season losses were by a combined 3 points. The two Play-Off runs have been similar as well. In both seasons Txus' men won two of their four knockout games leading into the Final Four. 2016/17 saw them split their games with a Greek opponent (PAOK) in the Round of 16.

They then ended the first leg of the Quarter-Finals with Asvel level, before dismantling the French club at home. This year they split their games with a Greek club (Promitheas) in the Round of 16 again - only this time they had to come back from a record 12 points down, after their worst performance of the season in Patras. The Quarter-Finals saw Tenerife face it's the toughest opponent of the season (possibly ever in the BCL) in Hapoel Jerusalem. After a leaving Israel with a 2 point deficit to overcome,  the Aurinegros were a force in the return leg. 


On the back of one of their most complete performances ever in the Basketball Champions League, the first kings vanquished the team that many people had as favorites take the crown this year. The knock against Tenerife this season has been their lack of individual scoring talent or game-winners. Against Jerusalem, Tim Abromaitis went some way to disprove that line of thinking. The American finished the home leg with 21 points and 9 rebounds to lead the Canarians back to the Final Four (winning MVP of the Quarter-Finals in the process).

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But as is always the case with Iberostar Tenerife, the whole was much greater than the sum of its parts. One time it could be that Ferran Bassas steps up when they need him. Another time it is Seba Saiz playing extended minutes that does the damage. It may not always be one player that provides the answer, but this team has a knack of finding the player with the advantage and putting them in a position to exploit it. 

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Stats

When you compare the team's statistical profile this season, there is the same level of congruity with the championship season. 

In 2017 the Canarians went in the Final Four ranked first in Offensive Rating and second in Defensive Rating. They were also ranked first for shooting efficiency (eFG%) and Assist Percentage. Click the tabs in that data story above, and you will see they have gone even further this time around. First on Offense and Defense, see's them 20 points per 100 possessions better than their opponents in 2018/19. They are first in shooting efficiency and Assist Percentage again, but this time they have added  Rebounding Percentage to their list of first places.

If they have had a question mark statistically in either season, it would have to be turnovers. They are the bottom ranked amongst Final Four teams for Turnover Percentage at 15.2%. Tenerife play a ball-movement style of basketball and one of the consequences of passing the ball is the risk of turning it over. They play at 67.8 possessions per 40 minutes (league lowest) so often their turnover count is often not as high as other clubs but to be successful at the Final Four they will certainly need to take care of the ball. 

If we dive a bit deeper and explore their data over their last 10 games leading into the Final Four,  we see that Pace and turnovers are a theme but perhaps not as impactful as expected.

Tenerife's second leg win over Promitheas was, in fact, their worst performance in the last ten games for turning the ball over (they turned the ball over on 27.2% of their possessions). If you click the Pace tab and search the filters in the data story above, you can flick through to see Tenerife's Pace for each Gameday. Only two occasions will you find that they played a game with more than 70 possessions per 40 minutes. Both were Play-Off second legs, and both were big wins. In fact, every time Tenerife has played a game above its season average for Pace, the result has been a win.

Sure, Tenerife win games by slowing the Pace and shooting more efficient shots than their opponents, but maybe the narrative of opponents trying to increase the Pace and speed this team up, is actually more fools gold than a tactic based on fact. The other trend to notice is the Tenerife's record is 3-2 in games when they have given up more than 110 points per 100 possessions. This team is known as a 3-point shooting, offensive team, but in the run to the Final Four, their defensive performance has had a bigger impact on winning.

Of course, we can't discuss Tenerife and stats without looking at shooting.....

Tenerife has been described as the "Morey-ball" ambassadors of Europe (named after Darryl Morey's Houston Rockets) because they like to shoot from behind the arc and at the rim - with a preference for high percentage corner 3-pointers. When you see the graphic above you can see that the numbers fortify the reputation. 

Then look again at the graphic below, and you see that Tim Abromaitis is a huge contributor to Tenerife's shot profile. He leads the team in shooting percentage from both of the corners. That figure of 83% from the right corner is eye-catching but potentially misleading. He is 5/6 from that spot which is low volume and volatile. The fact that he shoots more than 50% from two different areas behind the arc is far from misleading. The American is almost certainly the most deadly marksman in the Final Four.

Nicolas Brussino has grown into an even more important cog during the Play-Offs. His shooting from the wings has been equally lethal. Mamadou Niang's 80% at the rim has almost exclusively come from dunks. The big man was a decisive presence for Tenerife in the 2017 Final. With the athleticism of Ismael Bako looming, expect to see him play a bigger role again in the Semi-Final this year. The longer he stays out there to cover Bako defensively, the more likely we are to see Niang Airlines take off and spread those wings.

Roster

Before the Quarter-Finals, we looked at the way Txus Vidorreta has used his squad throughout the season. If we contrast the rotation in that article with the chart below for Tenerife's rotations in the Play-Offs, we can see clear differences. During the Regular Season, Vidorreta had two clear units for quarters one to three but then was much more fluid in the fourth. In the Play-Offs, we also see a  clearly defined first and second unit. There have been some adjustments though. Lucas Staiger started in the absence of Javier Beiran and Nicolas Brussino has been swapped into the starting unit.

Taking the observation further, Colton Iverson, Nicolas Brussino and Tim Abromaitis have been almost completely ever-present in the first and closing unit. Interestingly, we can also see that Ferran Bassas has regularly been trusted in the closing minutes, and often in a two-guard lineup with Rodrigo San Miguel.  The ability of this squad to flip between big and small lineups is what makes them such a defensive machine. 

Tenerife's two most efficient lineups in the Play-Offs have been:

Davin White, Colton Iverson, Nicolas Brussino, Rodrigo San Miguel, Tim Abromaitis  (Net Rating: +9 points per 100 possessions).

Ferran Bassas, Tim Abromaitis, Colton Iverson, Nicolas Brussino, Lucca Staiger (Net Rating: +9 points per 100 possessions).

The common thread in both those lineups is the same three players; Colton Iverson, Nicolas Brussino and Tim Abromaitis. We could pick out any number of players to look at closer but these three men, in particular, have played major roles in willing Tenerife to the Final Four again. 

Colton Iverson

It's one thing to be big. It's another thing altogether to play big. We have seen Colton Iverson set bone-crunching screens, pull contested rebounds and catch lobs all season. What we saw him do against Hapoel Jerusalem was dominate. Iverson ruled the game when he was on the floor. Jerusalem's front line is mobile and athletic but he made them look small with his ability to dominate his space. In the first two clips of the video below, you see Jerusalem try to front Iverson. On the first occasion, he swims out and re-seals inside position as the ball reverses. Then the second clip, watch how he uses his strength to move Josh Owens up the lane to create space before the pass.

Also, keep an eye on Tim Abromaitis' off-ball movement in that second clip. Jerusalem would want to help on that lob pass to Iverson. Abromaitis' movement blurs the lines of who is responsible for that help. The final clip is all about brute strength as he starts outside the paint before Abromaitis shoots. By the time the shot went up, Iverson had muscled his way to the front of the rim and gets the putback over two defenders.


The unsung part of Iverson's game is his passing. All season Tenerife have been able to rely on him kicking the ball out to shooters on the short roll or when the defense collapses. The last two laser-passes along the baseline in this next video, are as good as you'll see from a big man all year. 

 

Nicolas Brussino

Newsflash, Nicolas Brussino can shoot. No, he can really, really shoot. The Argentine played 54 Regular Season games for the Dallas Mavericks in the 2016/17 season, then spent some time in the G League before moving to Gran Canaria. He never really settled at his first stop in the Canary Islands but he is looking very settled under Txus Vidorreta. In 20 minutes, he is shooting 46% on 3.6 attempts from deep and 70% inside the arc. 9 points per game may not jump off the page but if you calculate his numbers over 36 minutes, 16.2 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 3 assists are outstanding productivity. In the video below you see what makes him dangerous is that at 2.03cm (6'8"), he can shoot over you but is also mobile enough to get out in transition and beat players off the dribble (prototype Tenerife recruit).


Defensively Brussino fits the profile as well. In the first clip of this next video watch how he first uses his length and foot speed to pressure Saloustros into a bad pass. Then in the second clip, he stunts to help on the roll-man, then stays in front of Butler late clock and uses his length to disrupt the shot. In both clips his footwork and body positioning is excellent. 

 

Tim Abromaitis 

We have already explored the fact that Tenerife doesn't win games off the back of a star player, but if one player is the most important piece for the style they play, it has to be Tim Abromaitis. He plays the stretch four and his ability to bang with the big guys at the rim on defense, then run them off screens and cash 3-balls on offense is what makes him invaluable. 

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😤 @TimAbro put up 21PTS & 6REB to help @CBCanarias move to the #BasketballCL Final Four!

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The other often unnoticed but vital element to Abromaitis' game, is the way he can switch and guard the ball against smaller players. The clip below encapsulates that ability perfectly. The play starts with Tenerife mismatched in transition. Abromaitis recognizes this and quickly closes out to Langston Hall. The Promitheas guard attacks the closeout. A combination of help from Iverson and Abromaitis recovering prevents Hall from getting to the rim. Abromaitis then switches onto Nikos Gikas. Watch how the American reads Gikas' feet on the side step and perfectly executes a "fly-by" contest. 

 

Tactics

We have almost covered everything there is to say about Tenerife tactically. Whether it is execution after timeouts:


Or deceptive out of bounds plays:


We know that this team can move the ball and we know that they are versatile and disruptive on the defensive end. This is a team that has a habit of making complicated things look simple. They have built a blueprint that looks - at times - like it doesn't matter w